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In 1996, a team of scientists at Aurora Biosciences began a search for microplate materials that would enable the most sensitive and advanced life sciences research to be performed in the small wells of the1,536- and 3,456-well plates used in ultra-high-throughput screening operations. However, the materials available at the time—mainly polystyrene and polypropylene—were unable to support studies involving small assay volumes and low assay signals.
This led the team at Aurora to search for a new material—which they found at Zeon Corporation in Japan. At the time, Zeon had launched an experimental new olefinic-plastic resin, Cyclo-Olefin-Polymer (COP). Upon further investigation, including physical, chemical, and optical properties analyses, it was quickly determined that COP would make for the most excellent material from which to make microplates for life sciences research.
Microplates are often overlooked when considering overall assay performance requirements. Many scientists are unaware of the subtle but critical differences in materials, design, and production cleanliness that contribute to microplate fidelity and consistency, and resultant assay performance.
Some critical microplate features necessary for high-performance assays include:
- Dimensional stability under temperature and humidity conditions
- Chemically and biologically compatible with screening reagents
- DMSO stable
- Surfaces that do not denature proteins
- Low binding surfaces—Low surface energy
- Low adsorption of chemicals or biologicals
- Supports cell viability, attachment, and growth
- Optical-grade performance
- Can use with microscope, imagers, scanners, etc.
- Supports all optical detection modes
- No leaching of solvents, metals, or chemicals
- Plate material should be free of bisphenol A, heavy metals from catalysts, and solvents
For the past 25 years, Aurora has exclusively used COP from Zeon to make the company’s microplate products. A quarter of a century is a long time in science, and it goes without argument that every aspect of discovery research science has evolved dramatically in that time. As is often heard at conferences— “all the easy stuff has been done” —meaning essentially that the next wave of discovery is going to stress the boundaries of materials science, detection modalities, liquid handling, signal-to-noise ratios, and resultant data comparisons. The microplate is not immune to these evolving needs. In fact, it could be argued that the microplate is at the center of the discussion, as the vast majority of assays and tests conducted in modern discovery research take place in the well of a microplate.
In February 2022, Zeon acquired Aurora Microplates as part of broad strategy to move more of Zeon’s business into life sciences research and diagnostics and to get closer to the end users and operators in these areas. With this acquisition, Zeon and Aurora completed a 25-year partnership and officially became the only microplate company in the world that has direct and complete control of its raw material supply. And as the world has witnessed over the past several years, supply chain and supply consistency are not to be taken for granted.
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